Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday confirmed a federal investigation into her top political advisor, Jay McCleskey, adding that she is “confident” he has done nothing wrong.
Asked during a public appearance in Albuquerque on Monday if she could confirm the federal probe into McCleskey, Martinez said “sure” and told reporters that federal agents have questioned her and members of her administration. In a statement issued to news organizations, Martinez said complaints that sparked the investigation “are obviously coming from the same people with axes to grind.”
“They failed against me, and now it appears they’ve moved on to people who work for me,” she said. “They’ll fail there too, and I am confident that neither Jay, nor anyone else, has done anything wrong. They can’t beat him, so they try to smear him. As a former prosecutor myself, I trust the system to look into and then reject these types of political cheap shots.”
Chris Sanchez, a Martinez spokesman, didn’t clarify later who the governor meant by “they” or what types of questions federal agents asked her in relation to the probe.
A person with knowledge of the investigation said Monday that the FBI has inquired about payments made by Martinez’s 2010 inauguration committee to companies in which McCleskey has a financial interest, including McCleskey Media Strategies.
The person, who asked not to be identified to avoid damaging the investigation, said the FBI has also been inquiring about payments to McCleskey’s companies from Susana PAC, a political committee that primarily supports legislative candidates favored by Martinez.
McCleskey launched his Albuquerque-based consulting firm, McCleskey Media Strategies,after he successfully guided Martinez, the first female Hispanic governor in the nation, to victory in 2010. He had previously worked for Martinez and others at Lincoln Strategy Group.
“At [McCleskey Media Strategies], we will continue to offer full-service political consulting, with an emphasis on media, mail, and strategic consulting, along with public relations services for clients outside the political world,” McCleskey told colleagues in a Jan. 29, 2011, email obtained by The New Mexican.
Days later, the committee which helped fund Martinez’s inaugural gala voluntarily disclosed that it raised $960,000 and named the contributors who gave the money. Though committee officials said they were not required to so, they also disclosed that they spent about $860,000 on the inauguration. The committee said at the time it gave the rest of the money to SAFE Houses, domestic violence shelters, across the state.
But while the committee voluntarily posted the names of its donors and the amounts they gave, it did not provide any other information, including donor addresses or a list of individual expenditures.
Meanwhile, Susana PAC paid McCleskey Media nearly $492,000 between May 2011 and September of this year.
McCleskey did not return an email and phone call seeking comment.
The Santa Fe New Mexican on Saturday reported the existence of the FBI investigation on McCleskey. He is one of the most successful political operatives in New Mexico’s recent history. He has helped Martinez win two decisive victories in her gubernatorial bids and helped flip the statehouse to Republican control for the first time in more than 60 years.
He is also one of the best-paid operatives in the state. His company has made more than $7 million in consulting fees and media buys since 2011, according to an analysis by New Mexico In Depth.
Representatives of the Albuquerque’s FBI Office and the Office of New Mexico U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez have declined to comment on the investigation.
Martinez told reporters at a news conference in Albuquerque that, “We’re not going to allow people who are making the same claims over and over again — and nothing came of them. And nothing’s going to come of this.
“I’ve been a prosecutor for 25 years and when someone makes a complaint, a process takes place,” she added. “And so interviews are taken. But, I mean, I’m still telling you that it’s the same people from two years ago, from the Jamie Estrada days. They’re making the same complaints. And they’re making them over and over. And they didn’t win then. And they’re not going to win now.”
Estrada, her former 2010 campaign manager, was released from federal prison last month after a nine-month sentence for intercepting the governor’s emails after he left the campaign. Some of those emails, sent over private accounts, dealt with state business such as the awarding by Martinez’s administration an extension of a State Fair lease to The Downs at Albuquerque Racetrack and Casino.
Estrada would not respond to Martinez’s comment on Monday.
In an article published Sunday, The New Mexican also reported federal agents have subpoenaed the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department for records of audits the department conducted on former administration officials and a member of her political team who had public splits with the administration.
Her spokesman, Sanchez, called allegations of retaliatory audits “a complete and utter joke.”
“It’s not only provably false, but it shows how desperate political opponents of the Governor are and the great lengths they will take to drag her name through the mud,” he said in an email to The New Mexican. “As the Albuquerque Journal already reported weeks ago, the administration has ramped up its efforts to collect unpaid gross receipts taxes. It’s a computer-generated process, and the formula has identified thousands of people for audits — including me, the governor’s communications director, as well as other staff members in the administration and those who have worked on her campaign. That’s some targeting.”
He did not respond to questions seeking specifics about his audit. State officials also did not respond to questions about when the department received a federal subpoena or what the subpoena sought.
Asked by a reporter Monday in Albuquerque whether Martinez has spoken to McCleskey about the investigation, the governor said, “Of course.”
“I speak to him every single day,” she said. “And when I talk to him, he’s working right now, I’m working right now. We’re moving forward. We’re doing our thing.”
New Mexican reporter Uriel Garcia contributed to this report.
Contact Justin Horwath at 986-3017 or email@example.com.